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Hugh Jackman on His Surprising Hollywood BFFs and Mother's Abandonment

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"I was single when I met her, and she was single," he recalls of his future wife, also the product of a single-parent household, whose father had died in a car accident when she was a child. "I was happy being single. I was out of a difficult relationship I'd had through drama school, and it was tumultuous and hard. I'd been living off 120 bucks a week as a student until I was 26. Then, when I met Deb, it was 10 times better than my single life. She was very beautiful. She was unbelievably fun -- this energy, this spirit -- irrepressible. And she had a confidence in herself. I had a massive crush on her instantly."

He adds: "She was sort of the opposite of me. I was very 'Even Steven,' and she was thrilling to me. I was always really attracted to that -- though at one point, as it was getting really serious, it terrified me."

They married in 1996, and Furness put her career on hold as Jackman's exploded. Now, he says: "It feels like she needs to get back into it. She needs to act again."

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His own career took off with stage roles in Australia including Trevor Nunn's production of Sunset Blvd., followed by Oklahoma! in London, which drew the X-Men producers' notice.

Shuler Donner and director Bryan Singer were looking to cast Wolverine, the stout, stubborn, enigmatic main character of their Marvel Comics adaptation. Shuler Donner admits the director at first was unconvinced. "Hugh was a lot taller than the character, and Bryan wasn't sure if he was the right guy," she says. "So I said, 'Let me send him up to you in Toronto,' " where the film already was underway. "And Hugh went up, and Anna Paquin was there already, and they did a scene together, and after Bryan yelled 'Cut!' one of the crewmembers said, 'Wow! That's Wolverine.' "

When Singer and Shuler Donner asked for a multipicture commitment, Jackman was delighted. He didn't realize that the fewer films he signed on for, the more leverage he would have if the producers wanted him back. "Here's my naivete," he laughs. "I was like, 'Fantastic!' My agent goes: 'No. You'll learn.' I said, 'They're going to guarantee me three jobs, and you've got it down to two?' I was so stupid. By the third, X-Men: The Last Stand, I understood."

The X-Men franchise has become a pillar of 20th Century Fox's movie slate, pulling in a robust $1.8 billion worldwide and bringing Jackman a reported $20 million for The Wolverine (his second spinoff as that character), which wrapped in late 2012. He is not committed to any more outings in the series following Days of Future Past.

Even that film came out of the blue.

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"I first heard about it around October or November [2012]," he notes. "I was literally finishing The Wolverine and dreaming about lasagna, and about three weeks before the end, they told me." The role was large and reunited him with many of the original cast. "There was no way I was not going to be part of that." He says he still has not read a finished screenplay, however, and has seen only a synopsis of about eight pages.

Outside these films, Jackman's work has spanned a dizzying array that has complicated his onscreen persona, occasionally making it hard to determine who the real Jackman is -- from the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold (2001) to Darren Aronofsky's philosophical drama The Fountain (2006) to Baz Luhrmann's epic Australia (2008). And then there's Movie 43, the much-maligned recent sketch-comedy flop by Peter Farrelly and other directors, in which he has a small scene as a man with testicles attached to his throat. Jackman committed to it four years ago, he says, and appears unperturbed by the reception: "I read a script for a short which really made me laugh, and then I heard Kate [Winslet] wanted to do it too, and I was sold."

Some of the projects he has turned down are as fascinating as those he has accepted. He rejected the Richard Gere role in Chicago because he felt he was too young; pulled out of the Ryan Gosling starrer Drive, which he had developed, because he was unsure about working with Nicolas Winding Refn, then a relatively untested director; and declined to be considered for James Bond around the time of the first X-Men. "I thought it would box me in too much," he says. "My natural instinct is to keep as many doors open as possible."

Doing so has brought him a Golden Globe as well as the Oscar nomination for Les Mis, not to mention acclaim for hosting the Academy Awards when he was asked to do so, intriguingly, by Steven Spielberg -- despite having dragged the director onstage during a Las Vegas production of The Boy From Oz.

"He was mortified," smiles Jackman, finishing the last bite of his enormous omelet, "and, of course, it's the worst thing to do to anybody, and I'm shocked that he still speaks to me."

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Now he is contemplating his future. He is preparing for the next X-Men, which involves a very different regimen from the one for Les Mis -- including consuming vats of food for eight hours straight, then going without any for 16 hours. "Your body learns to burn fat in that 16 hours," says Jackman, his physique at its finest beneath his casual blue T-shirt. "And I sleep better."

He has reunited and rebuilt a relationship with his mother, though he says they never had a particular rift despite the pain caused by their time apart and the limits imposed by ultra-expensive international phone calls.